There are plenty of misconceptions surrounding the coronavirus – COVID-19.
But St. Luke’s Health System and the American Red Cross of Greater Idaho are diligently working together to combat a misconception that literally threatens lives: the idea that giving blood is unsafe – or even unneeded.
“People are not donating the way they used to,” said Anne Burkey, a blood management coordinator in St. Luke’s Quality and Patient Safety Department. “The biggest message we have is that we are always in a shortage. Even before COVID-19, we were already experiencing routine shortages of Type O blood and platelets.”
St. Luke’s and the American Red Cross are trying to take every measure to conserve blood and promote donations, but a very real need still exists.
“Even if we cancel elective surgeries and we do our very best to conserve, people are still going to get into car accidents, they’re still going to have babies, and they’re still going to need cancer treatment and emergency surgeries,” Burkey said. “We’re faced with that every day, and particularly right now.”
Burkey said even before people became concerned about COVID-19, she had noticed a changing attitude about the importance of donating blood.
“I think that sometimes people tend to think that technology has advanced and taken away the need,” she said. “But it really hasn’t. There’s no substitute for blood.”
Meanwhile, thousands of American Red Cross blood drives have been canceled across the country because of COVID-19 concerns. That, in turn, has created a severe blood shortage.
“The need for blood is constant,” said Bryce Sitter, regional chief development officer with the American Red Cross. “We hope the scare wears off, and we can get the message out that giving blood is still safe.”
Added Burkey: “The American Association of Blood Banks, the CDC and the FDA have put out a statement that there is no report – across the world – of anyone transmitting the coronavirus or any other respiratory virus through a blood transfusion.”
That said, the American Red Cross has taken additional precautions to ensure the safety of donors and staff members, including:
Sitter said the Red Cross and St. Luke’s will continue to work together to address the need for blood donations. He said the Red Cross benefits in any number of ways from its partnership with St. Luke’s.
“Dr. Barton Hill (St. Luke’s vice president, chief quality officer and associate chief medical officer) is on our board of directors, so St. Luke’s is giving us valuable human resources and leadership,” Sitter said. “St. Luke’s also hosts blood drives. So, St. Luke’s is a recipient of our blood, but it’s also helping us draw vital units for collection and testing.”
Sitter also pointed to the $150,000 gift St. Luke’s recently gave to the Red Cross of Greater Idaho to help the organization replace its aging bloodmobile.
“We’re looking at about a year and a half before we’ll have that vehicle, but it’s one of the most important vehicles in our fleet,” Sitter said. “St. Luke’s was the backbone of the fundraising campaign that allowed us to order it.”
Dr. Hill said donating blood is an important way that people can contribute to society, especially now.
“Giving blood is one of the ways that all of us can personally contribute to an urgent need during this pandemic,” Dr. Hill said. “I hope people will consider giving the gift of life.”
To give blood and find a drive in your area, prospective donors can go to redcrossblood.org or call 1-800-RED CROSS (1-800-733-2767).
Look for special pop-up blood drives to be happening in many area communities over the next few weeks. Oppenheimer Development Corp., for instance, has donated space in the Sonna Building at 906 W. Main St. in Boise for multiple drives over the next few weeks. Again, go to redcrossblood.org or call 1-800-RED CROSS (1-800-733-2767) for more information.
The Red Cross also has many volunteer opportunities available, including new positions to ensure the safety of donors when they come in to donate. Learn more at redcross.org/volunteer.
Chris Langrill is a writer and copy editor for the St. Luke’s Communications and Marketing department.